Monday, January 21, 2013

Prunedale to Mountain View

Somehow I find myself far out of line
from the ones I had drawn
Wasn't the best of paths, you could attest to that,
but I'm keeping on.
–Poi Dog Pondering, “Thanksgiving

Swinging out west allows us to miss San Jose. It is a fine city, with a funky old ballpark where I once saw former Padres pitcher Scott Linebrink make his California League debut (he struck out 10), but it is crowded and best avoided today.

We will hang a left on CA-85 to Cupertino, then another on I-280 (Junipero Serra Freeway; those Padres keep following us everywhere). But I miss the second left and we end up in Mountain View.

Signs appear for US-101, which becomes Van Ness Street in San Francisco, three blocks from the end of the Pride Parade. Of all the roads in California, it is the one we are trying to avoid.

We take the first exit, Shoreline Blvd., and find the nearest parking lot so I can consult the map. GPS? Please, I want to get where we're trying to go.

It would make for a nice change. First Prunedale, now Mountain View? Who's driving, anyway?

Meanwhile, the parking lot is attached to something called the Computer History Museum, which turns out to be exactly what you'd expect. It's only 10:30 a.m., so the museum has been open for a half hour and is uncrowded.

Admission is $15 well spent. Two hours is not enough to explore this place, and I scribble notes as we gawk at ancient machines and read about pioneers in the field. What results is a jibberish manifesto of bullet points:
  • Babbage Difference Engine No. 1
  • Herman Hollerith, Joseph Marie Jacquard
  • Atanasoff-Berry Computer
  • William Shockley & “Traitorous Eight”
And so forth down the page. The hope is that I'll remember to look up Konrad Zuse or Project Whirlwind at some later date. Which I do, if only to say that I did:

According to Wikipedia, Zuse invented “the world's first functional program-controlled Turing-complete computer” in 1941–something called the Z3. Whirlwind, built by MIT for the U.S. Navy, was “the first computer that operated in real time, used video displays for output, and the first that was not simply an electronic replacement of older mechanical systems.” Parts of this machine, which used 5,000 vacuum tubes (my 100-Watt Marshall guitar amp uses four), are on display at the museum.

One of the last rooms is dedicated to video games, from the consoles of my youth to whatever the kids are playing nowadays. Atari 2600 and ColecoVision are represented, as are several generations of Sega and Nintendo machines.

No Intellivision, which probably absorbed more of my childhood than anything else. I'm not sure how I got my mother to buy me one of those back in the day. She is a literary sort, so maybe it helped that George Plimpton, founder of the Paris Review, was their TV spokesperson.

A personal favorite was Utopia, a precursor to the SimCity type games that became popular toward the end of the '80s. It was complex and enjoyable. You could play it hundreds of times and never get the same outcome.

There are a few working games in this room. One is the classic Pong, which Sandra and I play. The controls are clumsy by today's standards, and Sandra beats me with ease.

Sure, blame the controls.

Frank Black once asked, “Whatever Happened to Pong?” It's right here in Mountain View.

Also here? Good restaurants. We stumble onto Sushi Tomi, which serves delicious bentos for $13. Grilled saba, beef teriyaki, ahi sashimi, shrimp and vegetable tempura, miso soup.

Although this may not have been the best of paths, we're happy we came. But now it's almost 2 p.m., and we've got 120 miles of slow driving ahead of us.

We again seek the guidance of Junipero Serra, or at least his freeway. Back en route to San Francisco, all is well, at least for the moment.

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